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The Year of Bo

Thirty years ago a run of events happened that would turn Bo Jackson from a brilliant enigma into an international icon. Jackson was known before 1989, but in 12 months, everything changed.

JANUARY

Bo prepares to bounce back

In December 1988, Bo Jackson's second NFL season came to a disappointing end. He rushed for just 580 yards with the Raiders that year, never topping 100 yards in a game. Now he was preparing for the baseball season, his fourth as a pro with the Royals. Thus far as a two-sport star, it would be fair to call Jackson a brilliant enigma. Should he just pick one? Bo was set to make under $2 million combined in football and baseball in 1989, and had yet to make either a Pro Bowl or an All-Star team. Yet he was still a cultural curiosity, and forces were conspiring on and off the field. Everything was about to change.


FEBRUARY

Bo becomes a 'virtual' legend overnight: Tecmo Bowl is released

Tecmo Bowl was released for Nintendo Entertainment System in February 1989. An arcade version of Tecmo Bowl was released in 1987, but this release changed everything, because it was the first console game to feature real NFL players. In short, this was the first time you could ever hand the ball to Bo Jackson, throw it to Jerry Rice, chuck it with Dan Marino. But Bo is a phenomenon, and it's known to marketers to this day. "I've never played the game," Jackson admitted years later. Many others have, however. Even Tiger Woods told ESPN, "Bo Jackson is probably the best video game athlete of all time."

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Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson was unstoppable

Bo Jackson was known for unstoppable highlight-reel runs like this on Nintendo's Tecmo Bowl in 1989.


MARCH

Bo hits one to the moon

Jackson hits a 515-foot home run off pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd in an 8-7 spring training win over the Red Sox -- a moonshot that clears the 71-foot-high scoreboard in left-center at the Royals' facility in Haines City, Florida. "I sat there in utter disbelief that a human can hit a ball that far," Royals manager John Wathan said. "You don't know if you'll see one hit that far for the rest of your life." For perspective: The longest home run hit since 2006 went 505 feet. Jackson locks down the starting left-field job in spring training. It will become the healthiest season of his major league career.


Do you know Bo?

In 1989, Bo's salary with the Kansas City Royals was $610,000.


APRIL

Bo is off to his best start in a baseball season

Something is happening. Jackson entered the 1989 season with a career .238 batting average, but this is becoming the norm: Jackson goes 2-for-3 with a home run, two runs scored and three of Kansas City's team-record-tying seven stolen bases in a 7-4 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park in late April. "It's seldom where a game goes by where he doesn't do something exceptional," Royals coach John Mayberry tells The Boston Globe. Bo finishes April hitting .282 with eight home runs, a breakthrough month.


MAY

Bo turns strikeouts into highlight-worthy TV

Was it the first time Bo ever broke a bat over his knee or his head after a strikeout? We can't say. Did it officially become a thing in 1989? YES. "I'll have to admit, it was amazing to watch him take that bat and snap it over his knee like kindling," Wathan told Sports Illustrated.

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Bo Jackson on growing up, running, success and being great

On November 12, 1989, Bo Jackson was interviewed on ESPN NFL GameDay with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson.


JUNE

Bo gets voted to his first MLB All-Star Game

"If I'm chosen, great; if not, that's great too. I'll just put new line on my fishing rod ... and go out fishing with some buddies," Jackson told USA Today. There would be no fishing. Jackson takes a commanding lead in American League All-Star voting, and when fan balloting closes in July, Jackson will have an AL-high 1,748,696 votes. It will be his lone All-Star appearance.


JULY

Bo greets Ronald Reagan with a home run in the All-Star Game

True to 1989 form, Jackson hits a home run off Rick Reuschel to lead off the 1989 MLB All-Star Game for the AL. Coincidentally, recently outgoing President Ronald Reagan appears in the NBC television booth alongside Vin Scully during Bo's at-bat, and remarks on Bo's "interesting hobby." You know, NFL football.


Bo goes worldwide in Nike's 'Bo Knows' campaign

On the same night as the All-Star Game, the "Bo Knows" Nike ad airs for the first time. The commercial spot, the brainchild of Jim Riswold, a copywriter for the advertising firm Wieden and Kennedy, devised the ads to support Nike's new "cross-trainer" line. Sales of the shoe would rise from $40 million to $400 million in the wake of "Bo Knows." How big was the campaign? Even His Airness may have been momentarily eclipsed. "Nike has credited the Bo Jackson commercials with helping to make the athletic-footwear company No. 1 in its market," wrote The New York Times. "I've got to believe the Nike people are right," Tony Gwynn said at the time. "Bo can do it. He can do anything in this world."


AUGUST

Bo and the Royals go on a run; NFL training camp arrives

The Royals go on a nine-game winning streak (their longest of the year), capped by a 6-4 victory over the California Angels. Bo has three home runs and nine RBIs during the streak, going 10-for-35 at the plate. Despite the presence of the reigning AL champion Oakland A's in their division, Kansas City remains in the pennant race during a torrid August in which it goes 21-8. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Raiders are preparing for the 1989 NFL season.


SEPTEMBER

The Royals finish with 92 wins ... and Bo takes his 'break'

Kansas City trailed AL West-leading Oakland by just three games with 17 to play -- but the Royals will never catch the eventual World Series-winning A's. K.C. finishes 92-70. How much time will Bo take off to recover from a long baseball grind to prepare for football? "I'm going to take a week and then I'll report," Jackson tells the Los Angeles Times. "I stay in football shape by running during baseball. I don't have time to work out because I play every day." Bo had piled up a whopping 561 plate appearances in 1989.


Do you know Bo?

Bo was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Beckett Football and Baseball Digest.


OCTOBER

Marcus Allen goes down, and Bo steps in

Jackson reports to the Raiders only two days after fellow L.A. running back Marcus Allen suffers a torn knee ligament in a Monday night win over the New York Jets. Jackson immediately becomes the Raiders' No. 1 running back, carrying 11 times for 85 yards and a touchdown in an Oct. 15 win over the Chiefs. "I marvel at the guy," Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer told the Chicago Tribune. "I wonder why he doesn't get tired." Two weeks later, on Oct. 29, Jackson rushes for 144 yards in a win, which starts a three-game stretch of 100-yard performances. He's in line for his best NFL season.


NOVEMBER

Bo pops a 92-yard run, topping his famed 'tunnel' run

In his fourth appearance of the season, Jackson pops a 92-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against the Bengals, breaking his own team record for longest run; it will be the longest rush of his career. Yep, longer than his famed 91-yard run against Brian Bosworth and the Seahawks. Jackson rushed for 467 yards in his first four games of the 1989 season, helping the Raiders recover from a 1-3 start to get back into the playoff hunt at 5-4. Asked about the run after the game, Bo says, "Today was just another day at the office."


DECEMBER

Bo ends the year with his best season in both sports

Bo finishes the season with a career-high 950 rushing yards. He makes the Pro Bowl in 1990, and remains the only player to be named an all-star in two major North American sports in consecutive seasons. What did he pull off in 1989? He became a video game legend; he had his finest year in pro baseball; he had his finest year in pro football; he had his longest NFL run; he hit more home runs than in any other season of his career; he had a home run in the first inning of the All-Star Game; he was the centerpiece of the biggest ad campaign in sports. In 1989, Bo Jackson truly took over the world.


ILLUSTRATIONS BY JUDE BUFFUM